October 22, 2019

Putting the Clocks Back

Does it Mean More Car Accidents?

Cooler days and chilly nights tell us that we’re heading for winter again, but the real confirmation is when the clocks go back in October every year and suddenly make the afternoons darker earlier. Putting the clocks back an hour to Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) from British Summer Time (BST) might not seem to make much difference to life in general, apart from potentially gaining an hour in bed! However, a report from the RAC Foundation research organisation says differently. It reveals that an average of 278 more drivers are likely to have a car accident in the two weeks following the time change.

Research into driving accidents

The study is based on six years’ worth of accident statistics gathered by the Department for Transport, from 2012 to 2017. Over 123,000 records taken during the two weeks either side of each changing of the clocks contributed to the data used.

Taken into account were:

  • The severity of the accident – collisions were collated where there was a death or serious injury
  • The latitude of the accident location – the further north in the country, the bigger the impact of darker mornings or afternoons can have
  • The weather conditions at the time of the collision
  • Whether the accident occurred in the morning or afternoon
  • If any pedestrians were involved
  • Which Local Authority is responsible for the accident area.

Results of putting the clocks back

Taken over both changes, from GMT to BST in the spring and back again in the autumn, the study shows that, overall and on average, an extra 204 of us are likely to have an accident while driving during the succeeding fortnight.

Interestingly, the numbers actually reduce by an average of 74 (down 1.5%) after the spring change to BST. However, this is heavily outweighed by the average increase to 278 (up 5.1%) after the clocks go back in October.

A massive 75% of the extra accidents happen in the afternoon when there is less light due to the clocks being turned back an hour.

putting the clocks back accident statistics
Chart courtesy of RAC Foundation.

Reasons for the increase in traffic accidents

There are several likely reasons for the increase in traffic accident numbers. The main reason is the earlier darkness in conjunction with bad winter weather further reducing visibility. Others include:

  • High rush hour traffic volumes in the dark
  • Darker school going-home times with more vulnerable young pedestrians and cyclists on the streets
  • Motorists driving home in the dark, experiencing tiredness after a day at work and not being fully alert

What can we do?

There are moves by the European Commission to stop changing the clocks forward and back – a practice followed by some 70 countries in Europe and worldwide. The Commission seeks to put this in place by 2021. However, depending on the results of the Brexit situation in the UK, it remains to be seen what happens here. The safety organisation RoSPA is behind the move and is asking Government to permanently adopt BST all year round. They say it would potentially save lives and allow for an extra hour of useful, usable light in the afternoons.

In the meantime, drivers can help to alleviate the situation by ensuring they are even more vigilant than usual when the clocks go back. Be aware that the hour change happens literally overnight and does make more difference than you might think, particularly in bad weather.

For those unfortunate incidents, which do happen across fleets from time to time, CLM’s Accident Management Service can help get drivers back on the road and any vehicle repairs completed as quickly and cost effectively as possible. Find out more here.